Jehovah’s People Made Firm in the Faith
“The congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.”—ACTS 16:5.
1. How did God use the apostle Paul?
JEHOVAH GOD used Saul of Tarsus as “a chosen vessel.” As the apostle Paul, he ‘suffered many things.’ But through his work and that of others, Jehovah’s organization enjoyed unity and wonderful expansion.—Acts 9:15, 16.
2. Why will it be beneficial to consider Acts 13:1–16:5?
2 Gentiles were becoming Christians in growing numbers, and a vital meeting of the governing body did much to promote unity among God’s people and make them firm in the faith. It will be highly beneficial to consider these and other developments recorded at Acts 13:1–16:5, for Jehovah’s Witnesses are now experiencing similar growth and spiritual blessings. (Isaiah 60:22) (In private study of the articles on Acts in this issue, we suggest that you read the passages from the book indicated by boldface type.)
Missionaries Go Into Action
3. What work was done by “prophets and teachers” at Antioch?
3 Men sent out by the congregation in Antioch, Syria, helped believers to become firm in the faith. (13:1-5) In Antioch were the “prophets and teachers” Barnabas, Symeon (Niger), Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, and Saul of Tarsus. Prophets explained God’s Word and foretold events, while teachers gave instruction in the Scriptures and in godly living. (1 Corinthians 13:8; 14:4) Barnabas and Saul received a special assignment. Taking along Barnabas’ cousin Mark, they went to Cyprus. (Colossians 4:10) They preached in synagogues in the eastern port of Salamis, but there is no record that the Jews responded well. Since such ones were well-off materially, what need did they have for the Messiah?
4. What happened as the missionaries continued to preach in Cyprus?
4 God blessed other witness work in Cyprus. (13:6-12) At Paphos, the missionaries encountered the Jewish sorcerer and false prophet Bar-Jesus (Elymas). When he tried to prevent Proconsul Sergius Paulus from hearing God’s word, Saul became filled with holy spirit and said: ‘O man full of fraud and villainy, you son of the Devil, you enemy of everything righteous, will you not quit distorting the right ways of Jehovah?’ At that, God’s hand of punishment blinded Elymas for a time, and Sergius Paulus “became a believer, as he was astounded at the teaching of Jehovah.”
5, 6. (a) When Paul spoke in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch, what did he say about Jesus? (b) What effect did Paul’s talk have?
5 From Cyprus, the party sailed to the city of Perga in Asia Minor. Paul and Barnabas then went northward through mountain passes, likely ‘in dangers from rivers and highwaymen,’ to Antioch, Pisidia. (2 Corinthians 11:25, 26) There Paul spoke in the synagogue. (13:13-41) He reviewed God’s dealings with Israel and identified David’s descendant Jesus as the Savior. Though Jewish rulers had demanded Jesus’ death, the promise to their forefathers was fulfilled when God resurrected him. (Psalm 2:7; 16:10; Isaiah 55:3) Paul warned his hearers not to scorn God’s gift of salvation through Christ.—Habakkuk 1:5, Septuagint.
6 Paul’s speech aroused interest, as do public talks given by Jehovah’s Witnesses today. (13:42-52) The next Sabbath nearly all the city gathered to hear Jehovah’s word, and this filled the Jews with jealousy. Why, in just one week, the missionaries had apparently converted more Gentiles than those Jews had all their life! Since the Jews blasphemously contradicted Paul, it was time for spiritual light to shine elsewhere, and they were told: ‘Since you are thrusting God’s word away and do not judge yourselves worthy of everlasting life, we turn to the nations.’—Isaiah 49:6.
7. How did Paul and Barnabas react to persecution?
7 Now the Gentiles began to rejoice, and all those rightly disposed for everlasting life became believers. As the word of Jehovah was carried throughout the country, however, the Jews stirred up reputable women (likely to pressure their husbands or others) and principal men to persecute Paul and Barnabas and throw them outside their boundaries. But that did not stop the missionaries. They simply “shook the dust off their feet against them” and went to Iconium (modern Konya), a major city in the Roman province of Galatia. (Luke 9:5; 10:11) Well, what about the disciples left in Pisidian Antioch? Having been made firm in the faith, they “continued to be filled with joy and holy spirit.” This helps us to see that opposition need not hamper spiritual progress.
Firm in the Faith Despite Persecution
8. What happened as a result of successful witnessing in Iconium?
8 Paul and Barnabas themselves proved firm in the faith despite persecution. (14:1-7) In response to their witnessing in the synagogue in Iconium, many Jews and Greeks became believers. When unbelieving Jews incited the Gentiles against the new believers, the two laborers spoke boldly by God’s authority, and he showed his approval by empowering them to perform signs. This split the mob, some being for the Jews and others for the apostles (ones sent forth). The apostles were not cowards, but when they learned of a plot to stone them, they wisely left to preach in Lycaonia, a region of Asia Minor in southern Galatia. By being prudent, we too can often remain active in the ministry despite opposition.—Matthew 10:23.
9, 10. (a) How did inhabitants of Lystra react to the curing of a lame man? (b) How did Paul and Barnabas react at Lystra?
9 The Lycaonian city of Lystra next got a witness. (14:8-18) There Paul cured a man lame from birth. Not realizing that Jehovah was responsible for the miracle, the crowds cried out: “The gods have become like humans and have come down to us!” As this was said in the Lycaonian tongue, Barnabas and Paul did not know what was occurring. Since Paul took the lead in speaking, the people viewed him as Hermes (the eloquent messenger of the gods) and thought that Barnabas was Zeus, the chief Greek god.
10 The priest of Zeus even brought bulls and garlands in order to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. Likely speaking commonly understood Greek or using an interpreter, the visitors quickly explained that they also were humans with infirmities and that they were declaring the good news so that people would turn from “these vain things” (lifeless gods, or idols) to the living God. (1 Kings 16:13; Psalm 115:3-9; 146:6) Yes, God formerly allowed the nations (but not the Hebrews) to go their own way, though he did not leave himself without witness to his existence and goodness ‘in giving them rains and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts to the full with food and good cheer.’ (Psalm 147:8) Despite such reasoning, Barnabas and Paul scarcely restrained the crowds from sacrificing to them. Yet, the missionaries did not accept homage as gods, nor did they use such authority to found Christianity in that area. A fine example, especially if we are inclined to crave adulation for what Jehovah allows us to accomplish in his service!
11. What can we learn from the statement: “We must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations”?
11 Suddenly, persecution reared its ugly head. (14:19-28) How so? Persuaded by Jews from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium, the crowds stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. (2 Corinthians 11:24, 25) But when the disciples surrounded him, he rose up and entered Lystra unnoticed, possibly under cover of darkness. The next day, he and Barnabas went to Derbe, where quite a few became disciples. Upon revisiting Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, the missionaries strengthened the disciples, encouraged them to remain in the faith, and said: “We must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations.” As Christians, we also expect to undergo tribulations and should not try to escape them by compromising our faith. (2 Timothy 3:12) At that time, elders were appointed in congregations to which Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written.
12. When Paul’s first missionary journey ended, what did the two missionaries do?
12 Going through Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas spoke the word in Perga, a prominent city of Pamphylia. In time, they returned to Antioch, Syria. Paul’s first journey now over, the two missionaries informed the congregation of “the many things God had done by means of them, and that he had opened to the nations the door to faith.” Some time was spent with the disciples in Antioch, and this undoubtedly did much to make them firm in the faith. Visits by traveling overseers today have similar spiritual effects.
A Vital Question Is Resolved
13. If Christianity was not to be split into Hebrew and non-Jewish factions, what was needed?
13 Firmness in the faith called for unity of thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10) If Christianity was not to be split into Hebrew and non-Jewish factions, the governing body needed to decide whether Gentiles streaming into God’s organization had to keep the Mosaic Law and get circumcised. (15:1-5) Certain men from Judea had already traveled to Syrian Antioch and had begun teaching Gentile believers there that unless they got circumcised, they could not be saved. (Exodus 12:48) Hence, Paul, Barnabas, and others were sent to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Even there, believers who had once been legalistically minded Pharisees insisted that Gentiles had to get circumcised and observe the Law.
14. (a) Though disputing took place at the conference in Jerusalem, what good example was set? (b) What was the essence of Peter’s reasoning on that occasion?
14 A conference was held to ascertain God’s will. (15:6-11) Yes, disputing took place, but there was no strife as men of strong convictions expressed themselves—a fine example for elders today! In time Peter said: ‘God chose that through my mouth Gentiles [such as Cornelius] should hear the good news and believe. He bore witness by giving them holy spirit and made no distinction between us and them. [Acts 10:44-47] So why are you testing God by imposing a yoke [an obligation to keep the Law] upon their neck that neither we nor our forefathers could bear? We [Jews according to the flesh] trust to get saved through the undeserved kindness of the Lord Jesus in the same way as those people.’ God’s acceptance of uncircumcised Gentiles showed that circumcision and keeping the Law were not required for salvation.—Galatians 5:1.
15. What basic points did James make, and what did he suggest writing to Gentile Christians?
15 The congregation became silent when Peter concluded, but more was to be said. (15:12-21) Barnabas and Paul told about the signs God performed through them among the Gentiles. Then the chairman, Jesus’ half brother James, said: ‘Symeon [Peter’s Hebrew name] has related how God turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name.’ James indicated that the foretold rebuilding of “the booth of David” (reestablishment of kingship in David’s line) was being fulfilled in the gathering of Jesus’ disciples (Kingdom heirs) from among both Jews and Gentiles. (Amos 9:11, 12, Septuagint; Romans 8:17) Since God purposed this, the disciples should accept it. James advised writing Gentile Christians to abstain from (1) things polluted by idols, (2) fornication, and (3) blood and what is strangled. These prohibitions were in Moses’ writings that were read in synagogues every Sabbath day.—Genesis 9:3, 4; 12:15-17; 35:2, 4.
16. On what three points does the letter of the first-century governing body give guidance down to this day?
16 The governing body now sent a letter to Gentile Christians in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. (15:22-35) Holy spirit and the letter writers called for abstinence from things sacrificed to idols; blood (regularly consumed by some people); things strangled without draining their blood (many pagans viewing such meat as a delicacy); and fornication (Greek, por·neiʹa, denoting illicit sex relations outside of Scriptural marriage). By such abstinence, they would prosper spiritually, even as Jehovah’s Witnesses now do because they comply with “these necessary things.” The words “Good health to you!” amounted to saying “Farewell,” and it should not be concluded that these requirements primarily had to do with health measures. When the letter was read in Antioch, the congregation rejoiced over the encouragement it provided. At that time, God’s people in Antioch were also made firm in the faith by the encouraging words of Paul, Silas, Barnabas, and others. May we too seek ways to encourage and upbuild fellow believers.
Second Missionary Tour Begins
17. (a) What problem arose when a second missionary tour was proposed? (b) How did Paul and Barnabas handle their dispute?
17 A problem arose when a second missionary journey was proposed. (15:36-41) Paul suggested that he and Barnabas revisit the congregations in Cyprus and Asia Minor. Barnabas agreed but wanted to take along his cousin Mark. Paul disagreed because Mark had abandoned them in Pamphylia. At that, “a sharp burst of anger” occurred. But neither Paul nor Barnabas sought personal vindication by trying to involve other elders or the governing body in their private affair. What a fine example!
18. What resulted from the separation of Paul and Barnabas, and how can we benefit from this incident?
18 This dispute caused a separation, however. Barnabas took Mark with him to Cyprus. Paul, with Silas as his associate, “went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the congregations.” Barnabas may have been influenced by family ties, but he should have acknowledged Paul’s apostleship and selection as “a chosen vessel.” (Acts 9:15) And what about us? This incident should impress us with the need to recognize theocratic authority and to cooperate fully with “the faithful and discreet slave”!—Matthew 24:45-47.
Progress in Peace
19. What example do present-day Christian youths have in Timothy?
19 This dispute was not allowed to affect the peace of the congregation. God’s people continued to be made firm in the faith. (16:1-5) Paul and Silas went to Derbe and on to Lystra. There lived Timothy, a son of the Jewish believer Eunice and her unbelieving Greek husband. Timothy was young, for even 12 to 15 years later, he was still told: “Let no man ever look down on your youth.” (1 Timothy 4:12) Since he “was well reported on by the brothers in Lystra and [some 18 miles [29 km] away in] Iconium,” he was well-known for his fine ministry and godly qualities. Christian youths today should seek Jehovah’s help to build up a similar reputation. Paul circumcised Timothy because they would be going to the homes and synagogues of Jews who knew that Timothy’s father was a Gentile, and the apostle wanted nothing to bar access to Jewish men and women who needed to learn about the Messiah. Without violating Bible principles, Jehovah’s Witnesses today also do what they can to make the good news acceptable to all sorts of people.—1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
20. Compliance with the first-century governing body’s letter had what effect, and how do you think this should affect us?
20 With Timothy as an attendant, Paul and Silas delivered to the disciples for observance the decrees of the governing body. And what resulted? Apparently referring to Syria, Cilicia, and Galatia, Luke wrote: “The congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.” Yes, compliance with the governing body’s letter resulted in unity and spiritual prosperity. What a fine example for our critical times, when Jehovah’s people need to remain unified and firm in the faith!
How Would You Answer?
□ How did Paul and Barnabas react to persecution?
□ What can be learned from the statement: “We must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations”?
□ What counsel do we derive from the three points in the letter sent out by the first-century governing body?
□ How do factors that made Jehovah’s first-century witnesses firm in the faith apply to us today?